Guidance Issued by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill: Absentee Ballots Should be Made Available Due to Public Health Emergency
COVID-19, as a serious illness that is transmitted via direct contact, presents an inherent risk of transmission at the polling place
The CDC polling place guidelines encourage the use of absentee balloting to avoid disease transmission
HARTFORD – Secretary of the State Denise Merrill today announced that, due to the public health emergency of COVID-19 and the anticipated spread within Connecticut, absentee ballots for the April 28th Presidential Preference Primary should be available for any Connecticut voter who wants to avoid polling places due to COVID-19. Considering the threat of the spread of COVID-19 and the nature of its spread through contact, Secretary Merrill has determined that for reasons of public health, absentee ballots that are requested to avoid public gatherings at polling places are requested because of illness, and should be validly issued.
“Through surprise October snowstorms, November hurricanes, to the threat of a global pandemic – voting in Connecticut must go on,” said Secretary Merrill. “The nature of COVID-19, or the coronavirus, is such that public health experts advise minimizing crowds and direct contact with other people. In order to ensure that Connecticut voters are able to cast a ballot on April 28th, absentee ballots must be available for voters who want to follow public health advice and avoid polling places.”
Connecticut General Statutes 9-135 (a) (3) currently allows voters to get absentee ballots because of “his or her illness.” Secretary Merrill has asked Governor Lamont to issue an Executive Order that would eliminate restrictive language in the statute during this emergency. Following an executive order, 9-135 (a) (3) would allow voters to get absentee ballots because of “illness.” It is the opinion of Secretary Merrill that, under a revised statute, the current public health emergency of COVID-19 would qualify under 9-135 (a) (3) as an “illness” justification to request an absentee ballot. This opinion is narrow, and would only apply to the April 28th Presidential Preference Primary.
“Our polling places will remain open, and our hard-working local election officials and poll workers are preparing to deliver as smooth and as healthy an Election Day as is possible under the circumstances,” said Secretary Merrill. “Every town has the benefit of guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including cleaning and disinfecting polling stations, practicing frequent hand hygiene, and encouraging curbside voting for voters who need it. Those guidelines also include encouraging absentee balloting and my office has provided local election officials with the opinion necessary to carry out those guidelines.”
The Office of the Secretary of the State is working closely with the Registrars and Town Clerks of Connecticut’s towns and cities, and has advised them to expect higher than normal demand for absentee ballots. The primary is six weeks from this coming Tuesday and absentee ballots will be available on April 7th. Towns are unable to order any ballots until after the ballot order is determined which, by statute, must take place on March 24th.
The Office has asked every town to update their Emergency Contingency Plans with our office and to make sure that they have the legally required deputies in place in their towns, and have shared the CDC guidance on polling places and COVID-19 with the local election officials (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/election-polling-locations.html).
Secretary Merrill and her staff are meeting on COVID-19 response planning daily, are participating in all of the Office of the Governor’s planning calls, and are in regular contact with federal authorities. The Office has also set up a working group with the leadership and membership of the Registrars’ and Town Clerks’ Associations to ensure that both state and local election officials are prepared for the upcoming primary.